2011 Analysis: Ronny Paulino

For a while, it was questionable whether Ronny Paulino would ever get going in a Mets uniform, and what kind of contribution he’d make. Visa issues kept him out of Port St. Lucie until Mid-March, and when he finally arrived, manager Terry Collins announced he’d be Josh Thole‘s backup. Not long after he arrived in spring training, Paulino was diagnosed with anemia, further setting him back — and then there was the remainder of his PEDs suspension to serve.

Despite these multiple issues that prevented Paulino from properly preparing for the 2011 season, things turned out OK.

Ronny Paulino is a large, surprisingly athletic man who has been a perpetual enigma — the tools are there for him to be an above-average all-around MLB catcher, but his weight, occasional laziness, and frequent lapses in focus have made him an unreliable entity. In 2011, he managed to control his weight (without the use of illegal diet pills), and though he occasionally displayed laziness and lack of focus, those weaknesses in character didn’t significantly hamper his performance.

Paulino only appeared in 78 ballgames, but when he did, he put the bat on the ball — particularly in the first half of the year, when he hit .320 with a .769 OPS. However, his season peaked in June, when he hit .364, and from there it was all downhill. By August, Paulino was a non-entity; he appeared in only 25 games in the last two months of the season.

As big as Paulino is, he doesn’t hit for much power — he hit only two homeruns in nearly 250 plate appearances; he’s essentially the poor man’s version of Ramon Castro. However, that’s tolerable from a catcher hitting over .300 — which Paulino was doing before July. The knock on him was that although he “killed” lefthanded pitching, he couldn’t hit righties. As it turned out, he hit .289 AVG/.752 OPS vs. LHP, and .254/.602 vs RHP. That’s not a great split, but acceptable when you compare them to Josh Thole’s splits (.280/.709 vs. RHP, .167/.525 vs. LHP).

Paulino seemed to get along well with the pitching staff, called a decent game, and was a fairly good receiver. He displayed a strong arm when attempting to throw out runners, but his meager 20% rate of getting them was far below his career average; I’m going to attribute that at least partially to Mets’ pitchers inability to keep runners close. As far as blocking pitches, Paulino showed an ability to do so well, but wasn’t always as effective as his skills suggested — was that due to problems in concentration / effort, or unfamiliarity with the Mets pitching staff? Maybe a bit of both.

Overall, Paulino’s season was clearly divided in half: the first-half version was surprising and promising, the second-half Paulino was a disappointment.

2012 Projection

We don’t yet know if the Mets will offer arbitration to Paulino for 2012, and there is plenty of argument for both sides of whether to do so or not. On the one hand, when he applies himself, Paulino can be a good receiver — one that is, overall, better than Josh Thole. But the question — as it’s always been — is whether Paulino will play up to his potential. On the other hand, even if he does play as well as he can, of what value is that to the Mets over the long-term? Paulino will be 31 years old shortly after Opening Day, so he’s not part of the team’s rebuilding plans. The most value Paulino can have to the Mets is as a trading chip mid-season — which would require him to have a first half similar to last year’s.

As it is, the Mets have no legitimate catching prospects ready to audition at the big-league level, so if Paulino stays, he won’t be “blocking” anyone’s progress. There are currently no free-agent catchers under age 30, and the only other available backstops that might have similar trade value are Kelly Shoppach (who’s hovered around the Mendoza Line the last three years) and Chris Snyder (who has chronic, debilitating back issues). By virtue of a weak catching market, it probably makes sense to keep Paulino around. If he is a Met in ’12, my guess is we’ll see something similar to what we saw in ’11 — at this point in his career, Paulino “is what he is” — but we can keep our fingers crossed for another hot start that could make him a viable trading chip in July .

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. 86mets November 27, 2011 at 12:39 pm
    The Mets need to move on. They really need a backup/platoon partner for Thole who can not only hit LHP but, more importantly, mentor Thole on the finer aspects of catching. I thought Thole did well when the Mets had Henry Blanco as the backup. Blanco is an outstanding defensive catcher and obviously willing to help Thole with his work behind the plate. However, Blanco didn’t fit in with the new GM’s need for OBP / OPS from the position and he was allowed to leave for the more “offensive” minded Paulino. It’s time for the Mets to correct that mistake. Especially if they’re hoping Thole will still develop into a legitimate ML catcher.
    • Joe Janish November 27, 2011 at 1:23 pm
      Not sure I agree, because I don’t see Thole as a regular MLB catcher — not now, not in the future.

      But, if you think Thole has potential, then there are a few veteran free-agent catchers out there who might fit the bill. Jason Varitek, Jason Kendall, and Pudge Rodriguez are all out there. My guess is that Pudge would be the most likely to be interested in playing for the Mets, but he doesn’t fit the high-OBP edict of the front office.

      • 86mets November 28, 2011 at 12:09 am
        I really don’t see Thole as a regular MLB catcher, never have. I’m not sure he will ever be adequate enough defensively to warrant his weak bat in the lineup.

        Having said that however, the Mets do not seem inclined to pursue a legitimate replacement for Thole at this time. Part of that is a lack of suitable full time catchers on the Free Agent market. Those that are have considerable age or health issues (Ramon Hernandez and Ivan Rodriguez as examples). And to trade for a catcher would likely cost more in prospects than the Mets are willing to part with.

        Since it’s unlikely we’ll see the acquisition of a full time catcher any time soon I think it behooves the Mets to at least bring in a veteran with strong catch and throw skills who can help Thole. I think this was missing in 2011 in Ronny Paulino. He is not a mentor and his lapses of focus and occassionaly dedication make him a poor inspiration to a young player like Thole.

        I do not believe Thole is ever going to be good enough to regularly catch. But he is what he is which is all the Mets have got at the moment. The need to at least try to help him as much as they can until they can develop or acquire a permanent catcher in the future.

  2. argonbunnies November 27, 2011 at 5:31 pm
    Joe, what’s your take on the game-calling issue? Some reporter claimed that Paulino disregarded Warthen’s game plans. I don’t know if that’s true, and I don’t recall how many pitchers shook Ronny off, but I do remember being unimpressed with the pitches thrown with him behind the plate.

    It seemed to me that Paulino and Thole both had plenty of games where I couldn’t stand what was being thrown where, and when, but that Thole had more good games that showed solid pitch strategies. What did you see?

    • Joe Janish November 29, 2011 at 12:16 am
      If Paulino purposely failed to follow Warthen’s plan I might hold him in higher regard. 😉

      Seriously though, it’s hard to evaluate game calling from the comfort of my living room chair. So much depends upon what is happening in the moment with the pitcher on that day (physically, emotionally, and mentally), with the umpire, with the batter, with history between batter and pitcher, the game situation, the scouting reports, the pattern, and other considerations. Very generally speaking, I try to ascertain what’s happening between the pitcher and catcher based on both players’ body language. If they seem to be on the same wavelength, and the results are good, and the process of game calling strategy makes sense, then I assume there is good game calling going on. Often, it does not matter so much whether the “right” pitch is called in a specific situations, as much as the pitch the pitcher wants to throw and feels confident about throwing in that situation.

      Does that make any sense?

      If so, then I’ll continue by saying that Ronny Paulino generally seemed to have a stronger rapport with the Mets pitchers than Josh Thole, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say he always had their confidence. I really believe that the Mets pitchers would have performed better if they had a true leader behind the plate — one whom they respected and trusted completely.

      • argonbunnies November 30, 2011 at 5:22 am
        I am shocked to hear you say that. If there’s anything we can evaluate from our living room chairs, it’s player substitution, defensive positioning, and pitch selection.

        We’re capable of observing the ump’s zone, whether the slider is biting today, whether the pitcher has command of his change-up, and opponent hitters’ strengths and weaknesses.

        And we’re capable of saying, “If the pitcher throws anything slow on the outer half now, the hitter’s going to wave through it.” And then groaning when the pitcher throws a third straight inside fastball instead, and gets hammered.

        “Well, that’s the pitch the pitcher wanted to throw,” is the worst excuse ever. That’s some Mota to Spezio crap there. I believe you were the one who said that most pitchers were better off focusing purely on execution and leaving selection to the catchers, right Joe?

        “Do I feel comfortable with that pitch?” shouldn’t even be a question for guys like Pelfrey, Niese, Gee, Parnell and Beato. Don’t ask yourself that, just throw the pitch as best you can. If your slider sucks today and the catcher calls for it, just trust that he knows it sucks and is calling it for a reason. If your catcher is so inept that you can’t trust that, then lobby for a new catcher. Right?

        • Joe Janish November 30, 2011 at 6:39 pm
          re: “If there’s anything we can evaluate from our living room chairs, it’s player substitution, defensive positioning, and pitch selection.”

          I disagree strongly on pitch selection, because what we see from our living room chairs is from the most useless angle — the centerfield camera, which usually is also off-center. As someone who has spent time behind the plate and seen first-hand what pitches look like from there, I can tell you we are missing 90% of what’s really happening with every pitch by watching on TV. Additionally, there are other intricacies that we miss from the comfort of our sofas, such as the banter between the umpire and batter, adjustments made by both of those people, and the emotion of the pitcher.

          As for specific pitch calling, yes, in theory a pitcher should just listen to what the catcher says. But few if any pitchers will do that unless they absolutely trust and respect their catcher — and therein lies the problem. Listen to the Great Overthinker Ron Darling during any random broadcast and he’ll tell you that the pitcher is responsible for calling the game — and he had one of the greats (Gary Carter) to rely, but he still thought he was smarter. Bobby Ojeda has expressed similar feelings; point being, pitchers almost always think they know best. Further, if the catcher calls the “right” pitch but the pitcher doesn’t believe in it 100%, then it’s actually the “wrong” pitch.

          Based on the info leaking out in dribs and drabs recently, it sounds like Warthen and Paulino had major discrepencies, and we know Warthen can’t keep anything to himself, so my guess is the pitchers’ confidence and respect for Paulino (if they had any) were affected by Warthen’s complaints.

          But yes, ideally, in my opinion, on a team I’m coaching or catching, the pitcher’s best course of action is to leave the game calling to someone else. On the Mets, however, there has been no leadership nor chain of command nor structure for quite some time — just a bunch of cowboys doing whatever they feel like doing. Check out a championship ballclub and you’ll see there is a plan and system in place, with people making sure it gets executed.

        • argonbunnies November 30, 2011 at 7:49 pm
          Very interesting! We’re missing 90%? That’s hard for me to accept. I mean, I know it can be hard to see things like finish to pitches on TV — whether it’s till breaking or has stopped breaking as it gets through the hitting zone — but we can still see the batters, right? And isn’t that the most important thing? If a guy takes a pitch without even flinching, or if he swings and misses by two feet, or if he’s a little early or a little late — doesn’t the TV tell you that just fine?

          And also whether the pitcher’s hitting the glove?

          All that strikes me as being way more than 10% of the equation. I would have guessed the opposite, that other stuff is 10%.

          if the catcher calls the “right” pitch but the pitcher doesn’t believe in it 100%, then it’s actually the “wrong” pitch.

          I agree that that’s a problem. I’m just saying that the solution is for the pitcher to believe in it*, not for the catcher to call something else. Though, yeah, there needs to be a plan in place that is worthy of following. Isn’t that Warthen’s job? Do you feel he’s not doing it? If so, we need a new coach, right?

          *I know it’s not that easy, but I don’t understand how it’s an exception from the basics of team play. If a second baseman shook of the shortstop’s “I’ll cover second” sign, it’d be an issue, but no one seems to make an issue of pitchers shaking off signs. That double standard doesn’t make sense to me.

        • Joe Janish December 1, 2011 at 1:07 am
          rabbitman, believe me I’m in complete agreement with you re: pitchers following signal calling the way a soldier follows orders. However, the reality — particularly at the MLB level on teams w/o structure (i.e., the Mets) — is that it doesn’t happen.

          And yes, if you ever have the opportunity to watch ANY baseball game — be it MLB, minors, high school, American Legion, whatever — from a position behind home plate and close enough to truly see the movement of the baseball; to hear the conversation among catcher/umpire/hitter; to see where and how an ump sets himself up; to see a batter change his position in the box, the grip on the bat, the whites of his knuckles, the look on his face, and the smell of his fear; and to be close enough to hear what the pitcher is saying, how he’s breathing, and how the subtle movements of his face and body are reacting to his own pitches — then you will begin to understand why I say we’re missing 90% of every pitch from the comfort of our sofas. In addition to seeing the true movement, placement, and speed of the pitch, there is a TON of body language that we miss watching on TV.

        • argonbunnies December 1, 2011 at 2:02 am
          Thanks for those examples. Now I get where you’re coming from a bit better.

          If I were behind the plate, embedded in that sea of information, I’d want to pay attention to it too. But I wonder… is that really a good thing? A lot of psychological research concludes that when we make decisions quickly, we do it best by focusing on the few most important details, rather than trying to incorporate everything. Expert doctors who look for ways to apply their expertise are worse at diagnosing heart attacks than technicians who look for the 3 main indicators.

          So who’s in a better position, the fan who sees that the batter can’t hit a curveball, or the catcher who’s looking at grips and stances and facial expressions?

          I’m just playing devil’s advocate here. I have no way to know the success rate for pitches that are called based on up-close body language. All I know is that the success rate for pitches that look stupid to me, based on the few things that I can see on TV, is terrible.

  3. LongTimeFan November 28, 2011 at 4:47 am
    Paulino doesn’t impress me, much of it stems from a player giving far less than he should.

    I think Ramon Hernandez would be a fine signing on both sides of the ball to split time with whomever else shares the duties. I like leadership and defense behind the dish first and foremost, and both Thole and Paulino don’t measure up in my view, a very disappointing duo. I’d pair Ramon Hernandez with Nickeas and would feel far better about the catching situation.

  4. izzy November 28, 2011 at 11:18 am
    Paulino representing everything wrong about Sandy alderson. He made no moves to im[prove the team and even when deciding which cheap player to pick he picked the wrong one. I guess Paulinoi’s 50 game suspension excited Alderson, reminding him of the good old days when he could spot a roider better than any other GM. Oh well, Buddy boy really didn’t want the Mets to win, He just wanted to remind Freddy that he owns him.
  5. NormE November 29, 2011 at 1:53 am
    This is a bad second guess, but given the fact that the Mets never really believed that Nick Evans was ever going to be a starter at 1st, 3rd or the out field, maybe they should have switched him to catcher a couple of years ago. There would have been little to lose and much to gain if he could have made the change.
    • Joe Janish November 29, 2011 at 10:04 pm
      I’m with you on that, and suggested as much many times going back to 2009.